Smart, Dominant Defense
By Matthew Osborne
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Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart does not know the meaning of the term “rebuilding”.
While that statement may be an exaggeration, you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell it judging by his defenses’ performances in recent seasons.
After a dominant defense, led by Smart, propelled the Crimson Tide to the BCS national championship in 2009, many experts projected that the Alabama defense would see a drastic decline in production in 2010, with just two starters set to return from the championship team.
While the Crimson Tide defense did experience a decline in production from their 2009 numbers, the drop off was far from significant. Transitioning nine new players into the starting lineup, Alabama finished tied for third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing a meager 13.5 points per game.
With the majority of the 2010 defense returning last season, Alabama emphatically proved that they were the premiere defensive team in the nation. Smart’s defense, which was filled with future NFL stars at every level, gave up just 8.2 points per game on the season, and was nearly 80 yards per game better than the second-best defense in the country in total defense.
Fast forward to this season, and the 2012 Alabama defense bares closer resemblance to the 2010 Crimson Tide defense than it does to last year’s overpowering unit.
Just four starters – DL Jesse Williams, DL Damion Square, LB Nico Johnson and FS Robert Lester – return from what was arguably one of the top defenses in college football history.
Although it is highly unlikely that his defense will be able to replicate last season’s domineering performance, Smart is not worried about the comparisons which will undoubtedly be made this fall. Rather than focusing on how his defense can try to top last year’s statistical performance, Smart is focused on this group of players living up to the ultimate goal of the program.
“We’re not holding these guys or making any comparisons to that defense. These guys are being compared to the goals we have every game. Our goal is to win the game,” said Smart at Alabama’s Media Day.
Winning games is certainly not an area where Alabama has struggled in recent seasons, but that does not mean that questions do not abound for the Crimson Tide.
The four returning starters combine to give Alabama a solid group of defenders in the middle of the defense, but the Crimson Tide are still searching for playmakers to emerge on the perimeter. In particular, Smart will be looking for a pair of pass rushing threats to surface as replacements for the now departed Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.
For Robert Lester, the senior leader of the secondary, there is one simple reason why Alabama fans should not fret seeing serious regressions from the defense this fall.
“I mean, just look at the recruiting classes. There have been great recruiting classes back-to-back-to-back. There is great talent that is here,” the All-American hopeful said. “A lot of young guys are able to come in and play for us, and that says a lot.”
If you follow recruiting with any sort of interest, you know that Lester is justified in making his statement. In addition to being the nation’s premiere college football program over the last half-decade, the Crimson Tide have also been one of the best recruiting programs in the FBS over the time span.
The Alabama defense may not be littered with as many familiar names as we have grown accustom to seeing, but there is no doubt that this will still be one of the nation’s elite units this fall.
College football has often been categorized as a cyclical sport. If there is one thing that you can count on for consistency, however, it is Kirby Smart leading a stellar Alabama defense.
Do not expect for that to change this season.